HealthDay News — The American Medical Association (AMA) has adopted policy that recognizes obesity as a disease, a step that the association hopes will help focus more attention on treatment and prevention efforts, and that some suggest may lead to greater acceptance by insurance providers to cover treatment.
Just days earlier at their annual conference, the AMA’s own Council on Science and Public Health had specifically labeled obesity as not a disease, a distinction that drew the ire of many medical specialists who disagree. The council cited the lack of “a sensitive and clinically practical diagnostic indicator of obesity” as part of their reasoning.
However, when the matter was put to a vote, the AMA rejected this advice and defined obesity as a disease, the latest development in an ongoing debate.
According to the CDC, more than one-third of U.S. adults can be classified as obese, defined as having a BMI >30. At this point, nearly 17% of children aged 2 years to 19 years are also obese.
Obesity is associated with numerous health risks, including hypertension, diabetes, high blood cholesterol and triglycerides, low HDL levels, increased risk for heart disease and stroke, and increased risk for many types of cancer.
Supporters of the new label hoped that it would highlight the epidemic and lead to more responsibility on the part of health insurers.
“Recognizing obesity as a disease will help change the way the medical community tackles this complex issue that affects approximately one in three Americans,” AMA board member Patrice Harris, MD, said in a statement. “The AMA is committed to improving health outcomes and is working to reduce the incidence of cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes, which are often linked to obesity.”
“I would like to move away from the tyranny of ‘Is it a condition or is it a disease?’ and simply define obesity as a chronic disease, combine public health and clinical approaches, and work to bend the weight curve in the US,” added John Armstrong, MD, a delegate of the American College of Surgeons.
Others were less convinced of the validity of the label, pointing out that the association of reduced exercise rates and increased sugar intake with obesity does not indicate that it is a disease.
“We cannot say just because you are obese you will experience harm and morbidity from this, and that is part of a definition of a disease,” said Ilse Levin, DO, of the American Society of Addiction Medicine.
Some argued that calling obesity a disease was a capitulation of sorts, and that it might exacerbate the country’s significant problem with it.
“I believe telling people they have a disease allows people to throw up their arms and surrender and do nothing,” Texas delegate Russ Kridel, MD, said.
- Obesity Not a Disease, AMA Council Says. June 17, 2013 . Accessed June 21, 2013.